With cases currently reported in every continent except Antarctica, the new coronavirus has become a terrifying reality. And although only certain strains of the coronavirus are more dangerous, the illness has mysterious origins and no current vaccine, so it's only normal to be scared. If you've made travel plans for the near future, chances are you're wondering if you should cancel your trip and if you can cancel it for free. In short, yes, you may want to cancel, and yes, you might be able to get a refund, but first there are three deciding factors:
- Travel insurance
- Health and age
- Intermediate locations and destinations
If you're canceling because of fear of the virus, you most likely won't get a refund. The only sure way to get a refund is if you purchased "cancel for any reason" travel insurance through a third party (which you probably didn't, because who even knew that existed?). But that typically only reimburses you for 50-75 percent of your trip. However, there's a lot of gray area when it comes to insurance coverage for a disease outbreak, because it doesn't happen often. If you have travel insurance of any kind, even through your credit card, it's worth calling and asking for help.
No matter where you're traveling, the coronavirus is a real concern if you are elderly, have a chronic illness, or are immunocompromised. Even if no one traveling falls into any of those categories, consider if anyone you live with does and what you do for work. From experience, I can tell you that a doctor's note can be used to delay a trip even if you don't have insurance. Now, I'm not telling you to cash in on a simple cold, but I will say that a note signed and sent from your doctor gets results.
For most people, the only real concern is if you're traveling to, from, or through seriously affected regions, like mainland China and Hong Kong, South Korea, Italy, Iran, or Japan. Major airlines have suspended or are reducing flights through these areas, so changing your vacation plans for free is very feasible. However, your best chance for a full refund is if China, South Korea, or Italy are on your itinerary, and the best way to go about that is a full-on vacation cancellation.
Many hotels are offering full refunds and major airlines have options for recourse. Delta, American, and United, for instance, are waiving change fees so you can delay your trip, but the travel must occur during specific date ranges. While fare differences may apply in the future, cancellation fees are being waived and you will receive a refund in some form when you're ready to travel. Below are the current refund policies for major US airlines.
Delta will let you cancel your trip and credit you the value of your ticket, which can be put toward travel one year from the original issue date. Currently, this offer is available for flights through Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, and any city in Italy, and can be done through the My Trips tab of Delta's website.
American allows cancellations of trips through Seoul and anywhere in northern Italy. The airline will provide a travel voucher valid until one year from the purchase of the original ticket if you call 800-433-7300. Those with flights through mainland China or Hong Kong are eligible for a full refund, which can be requested online.
United also has an online refund request service for those with trips through mainland China or Hong Kong. Flights through Seoul and northern Italy can be canceled, but rather than a typical voucher, trips are rescheduled through the My Trips tab, and you can change departure city, destinations, and travel dates, as long as travel is completed within one year from the original date of purchase.
JetBlue and Alaska Airlines
JetBlue and Alaska Airlines, on the other hand, are allowing passengers to change or cancel all flights for free no matter where you're flying. This applies to bookings made from now until March 11 (JetBlue) and March 12 (Alaska) for travel through June 1.
So, yes, there are ways to cancel your vacation for free. But if you're avoiding severely affected areas and are young and in good health, you probably won't be able to and you probably don't need to. Dr. Henry Wu, director of Emory Healthcare's TravelWell Center, told CNN that while it's important to monitor the outbreak (I like this live map), he is unaware of any coronavirus cases acquired during flights. His advice is surprisingly simple: practice strict hand hygiene and cough etiquette, avoid people who are sick, and get a standard flu shot.